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English Español Istobal: “Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have great potential for automatic carwashes”

We speak to Rafel Tomás, CEO Corporate & Sales Development of international carwash systems manufacturer Istobal, about opportunities in the automatic carwash market in Latin America.



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Rafael Tomás is CEO of ISTOBAL for Corporate Development and Markets. Rafael joined ISTOBAL in 1992 as Key Account Manager, and was appointed as deputy to the company’s CEO four years later. In 1998, he was named director of sales, a role in which he was responsible for the export market with the main task of strategically expanding the Technical Service department. In 2006, he became CEO of ISTOBAL

The automatic carwash market in Latin America is mainly at a developing stage. Which markets in the region show the most promising signs?

The two most important markets are Mexico and Brazil. Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are markets with great potential for automatic carwashes, as well as other segments. Argentina, obviously, shows great potential but you have to take into consideration their macroeconomic situation. Also, the carwash market in Chile is developed.

Are there significant differences between countries in the region (Colombia, Ecuador, Chile…) when we talk about market development?

Indeed, there are differences. As we said, Chile has a developed market that in many ways matches European markets. However, in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador that development has not occurred for a variety of reasons.

ISTOBAL already has an important presence in Mexico and Brazil, where you have an assembly plant. In addition to that, as a Spanish company you share the same language with most of the region. Does that give you any kind of advantage to expand your presence in Latin America?

As a multinational company with a presence in over 75 countries language no longer poses a challenge or a significant advantage to grow in markets. Although sharing the language obviously makes communication easier for the commercial and technical departments, as we already have all the documentation in Spanish. There is also a cultural factor that has an influence – the possibility of understanding the local mentality.

What are ISTOBAL’s plans to expand in the region in the near future?

The first step is to consolidate a distribution network that will allow us to have a long-term partner in each of the markets. This partner receives a complete commercial and technical training in order to ensure his or her capacity to sell the washing equipment and provide a technical service that guarantees a correct functioning. After this, we work closely together with our local partner to achieve most of the opportunities we identify in the market.

Where do you see more movement? In the segment of professional fleet drivers or in public carwashes?

In the short term, the most active segment is professional fleets, both for cars and industrial vehicles, as the automatization of this sector can already present economic benefits.

Certain oil companies, such as Terpel in Colombia and Copec in Chile, are investing in modern service stations with automated washing services and convenience stores. What kind of role do the major fuel brands play in promoting modern washing technologies?

Obviously, the major operators try to reproduce the business model that work in other geographical areas, including carwash systems at service stations. However, the rate of maturity of each market is different and the process of gaining ground on hand carwash will have its own evolution.

With the experience that you already have in the region, does the Latin-American public lean towards friction systems or touchless washing?

Friction washing has good acceptance in markets such as Chile, Mexico and Brazil. In others, the idea that brushes can scratch the paint or brake mirrors and antennas is still ingrained. Today that is not the case. For years now we have used electric controls to regulate the pressure of the brushes. We use very trustworthy electronic elements that guarantee a constant pressure and without risk to the vehicle. In addition, with the new foam materials in the brushes, the contact is a lot softer without risking the efficiency of the wash.

Regarding the automatic rollover without brushes or "touchless," the presence is testimonial. However, what does have great potential are the centres of high pressure in selfservice mode, which are starting to work in some countries. They are an alternative to hand washing and are more economic that the automatic equipment.

Which are the main factors that will influence the growth of the automatic carwash market in Latin America?

One the one hand, there are the macroeconomic conditions, which include the ideal conditions to invest, the price of labour, utility costs such as water and electricity, regulations concerning the environment… Changing people’s mentality will also play a role, convincing them to accept automatic carwash as an alternative to manual. Finally, there are the service station groups and their ability to innovate – a successful introduction of a washing model will be replicated in other businesses.

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